Understanding Cities: Advances in Integrated Assessment of Urban Sustainability

The urgent need to reconfigure urban areas to consume fewer resources, generate less pollution, be more resilient to the impacts of extreme events and become more sustainable in general, is widely recognised. To address these issues, requires integrated thinking across a range of urban systems, topics, issues and perspectives that are traditionally considered separately. This book introduces key results from the European Science Foundation funded COST Action network that brought together researchers and practitioners involved in urban integrated assessment. Using case studies, theoretical approaches and reporting experience from across Europe this book explores the challenges and opportunities of urban integrated assessment through four perspectives:
(i) Quantified integrated assessment modelling;
(ii) Climate change adaptation and mitigation;
(iii) Green and blue infrastructure; and,
(iv) Urban policy and governance.
The book closes by outlining priorities for future research and development and presents a generic framework for urban integrated assessment to analyse the potential benefits and trade-offs of sustainability policies and interventions.

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Posted in Assessment, Cities, Green city, Sustainability, Sustainable development | Tagged , , , ,

Green Infrastructure – Life support for Human Habitats

The value of ‘green infrastructure’ in urban landscapes is becoming increasingly recognised by health professionals, water managers, planners, policy makers and designers around the world. The rapid expansion of towns and cities contains the real risk of creating unliveable, unhealthy environments. The contention is that human habitats need to be healthy and friendly places that use and recycle resources wisely, are clean, safe and accessible, are protected as far as possible from extreme weather conditions, and where natural systems are not only recognised and valued for the critical functions and services they provide, but are assisted in delivering these services. Green Infrastructure is the network of green places and water systems that delivers multiple environmental, social and economic values and services to urban communities. This network includes parks and reserves, backyards and gardens, waterways and wetlands, streets and transport corridors, pathways and greenways, farms and orchards, squares and plazas, business and institutional green areas, roof gardens and living walls, sports fields and cemeteries. Green Infrastructure (GI) is critical to the health, liveability and sustainability of urban environments. It strengthens the resilience of towns and cities to respond to the major current and future challenges of growth, health, climate change and biodiversity loss, as well as water, energy and food security.

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Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development – A New Research Agenda

Community action for sustainable development is an important  element of most countries’ policies for sustainable development. We welcome this growing recognition of the role of civil society in achieving sustainability objectives, but tempered with a few words of caution: First, there is very little empirical evidence to support claims that such objectives are realistic or achievable; second there is a lack of understanding about how to best harness and support the activities that are taking place; and third, existing evidence points to the need for policy support and public investment, and that effective communities may require effective states. In short, the ‘big   society’ rhetoric promises a growing role for civil society, but must not be a smokescreen for community development budget cuts. Spurred on by these issues, we have developed a research agenda to deepen our understanding of these civil society processes, and their potential. Our recent research into this field, which we term ‘grassroots innovations’ examines the processes by which community-led initiatives might develop new solutions for sustainable development, and how those ideas and practices might grow and diffuse into wider society.

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Read also: Grassroots Innovations

Posted in Community development, Grassroots innovations, Social innovation, Sustainable development | Tagged , , ,

The Social Innovation Dynamic

Social innovation is an initiative, product or process or program that profoundly changes the basic routines, resource and authority flows or beliefs of any social system.  Successful social innovations have durability and broad impact. While social innovation  has recognizable stages and phases, achieving durability and scale is a dynamic process  that requires both emergence of opportunity and deliberate agency, and a connection between the two. The capacity of any society to create a steady flow of social innovations, particularly those which re-engage vulnerable populations, is an important contributor to the overall social and ecological resilience.

Social innovation is needed to build social and ecological resilience in the face of  mounting complex challenges to our economic, social, political and cultural institutions. Intractable problems are not new, but their interconnection in the context of global systems is presenting a new level of urgency and uncertainty. Building capacity at local, regional, national and international levels for not only new inventions and creativity in the social arena but also for system transformation can build resilience in the face of this uncertainty. In particular, the re-engagement of vulnerable populations can have a positive impact on our capacity for innovation and can add to the resilience of the whole.

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Unlocking the Potential of Sharing

The sharing economy allows people to share property, resources, time and skills across online platforms. This can unlock previously unused, or under-used assets – helping people make money from their empty spare room and the tools in their sheds they use once a year. It allows people to go from owning expensive assets, such as cars, to paying for them only when they need them. Individuals can make more from their skills, and work more flexibly. There has been tremendous growth in the sharing economy in recent years, and this is set to continue. This is a huge opportunity and our ambition should be to be the world’s leading sharing economy. As with all disruption, we also need to be careful. Sharing economy businesses and traditional operators need to be treated fairly, particularly in terms of regulation. Consumers must be protected, and trust must be strengthened in online transactions. However, a degree of caution should not stop us from embracing the potential sharing offers for a new, more efficient and more flexible economy.

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Read also: Design for Sharing

Give & Take

Teaching, Designing, and Sharing

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Rethinking Smart Cities From The Ground Up

This report tells the stories of cities around the world – from Beijing to Amsterdam, and from London to Jakarta – that are addressing urban challenges by using digital technologies to engage and enable citizens. As cities bring people together to live, work and play, they amplify their ability to create wealth and ideas. But scale and density also bring acute challenges: how to move around people and things; how to provide energy; how to keep people safe. ‘Smart cities’ offer sensors, ‘big data’ and advanced computing as answers to these challenges, but they have often faced criticism for being too concerned with hardware rather than with people. In this report we argue that successful smart cities of the future will combine the best aspects of technology infrastructure while making the most of the growing potential of ‘collaborative technologies‘, technologies that enable greater collaboration between urban communities and between citizens and city governments. How will this work in practice? Drawing on examples from all around the world we investigate four emerging methods which are helping city governments engage and enable citizens: the collaborative economy, crowdsourcing data, collective intelligence and crowdfunding.

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Cultural Mapping – Visualizing Cultural Resources

Cultural mapping is an innovative tool used for gathering information about the cultural landscape and the cultural panorama in local communities. Through this process, cultural elements are recorded – the tangibles like galleries, craft industries, distinctive landmarks, and local events  as well as the intangibles like memories, personal histories, attitudes and values. How cultural mapping is carried out has everything to do with who is doing the mapping and why. What kind of information the organizations collect and how they use the information depends on what is the need for the mapping. Needs can range from defining local culture, identifying gaps and overlaps in cultural activities and practices, to making the case for investing in the communitys cultural development.

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Plenitude: the New Economics of True Wealth

At a moment of ecological decline and continuing financial uncertainty, best-selling author and economist Juliet Schor offers a revolutionary strategy for changing how we think about consumer goods, intrinsic value, and ways to live. Earth, we have a problem: humans are degrading the planet far faster than they are regenerating it. This is leading to increasingly expensive food, energy, transport, and consumer goods. As well, the economic downturn that has accompanied the ecological crisis has led to another type of scarcity: incomes, jobs, and credit are also in short supply. But our usual way back to growth — a debt-financed consumer boom — is no longer an option that our households or our planet can afford. Plenitude deals with these challenges by putting the need for sustainability at the core of its response. But this is not a paradigm of sacrifice being offered — instead, it’s an argument that, through a major shift to new sources of wealth, green technologies, and different ways of living, we can become better off and more economically secure. Around the world, small groups of people are already busy creating lifestyles that offer a way out of the work-and-spend cycle. These pioneers’ lives are scarce in conventional consumer goods, but rich in the newly abundant resources of time, information, creativity, and community. This trend represents a movement away from the conventional market, and offers a way toward an efficient, rewarding life. Plenitude is a road map for the next two decades. In encouraging us to value our gifts — nature, community, intelligence, and time — Schor offers all of us the opportunity to participate in creating a world of enduring wealth and well-being.

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Read also: Interview with Juliet Schor, author of Plenitude

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Technologies that are Decentralizing the Economy

The world is becoming more centralized, increasingly focused on economies of scale and transferring wealth to a tiny elite at the top of the financial system. Yet, at the same time there is another movement that is actively working to decentralize the world. The decentralizing technologies and innovations in this list are all related to food, energy, water, shelter and waste and they are not designed to disconnect you from mankind, but rather, they integrate deeply with families, communities, societies, and all humans; in a bottom-up process rather than a centralized top-down structure. Many of these technologies are open-source, some are high-tech and others are low-tech and low-cost solutions. This list is far from exhaustive, in fact, the reader will discover that each of the technologies on this list is just the tip of a larger network of innovations. Thanks to the information available on the internet, the prospects of self-reliance has never been more real, and more achievable.

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Cities and Biodiversity Outlook – Urbanization, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

The world is increasingly urban, interconnected, and changing. If current trends continue, by 2050 the global urban population is estimated to be 6.3 billion, nearly doubling the 3.5 billion urban dwellers worldwide in 2010. More than 60 percent of the area projected to be urban in 2030 has yet to be built. Most of the growth is expected to happen in small and medium-sized cities, not in megacities. Even under scenarios of considerably slower urbanization rates, urban areas all over the planet are currently facing severe challenges. There is therefore a particular need for enhanced focus on governance capacity to deal with the challenges related to urbanization both within and outside city boundaries . This will require action at multiple scales, from the local to the international. Maximizing the biodiversity potential through improved urban governance globally will require more comprehensive local knowledge, especially of under-researched cities in the Global South.

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